PARLIAMENT WEAVES AND DUCKS

Xoliswa Tom, chairperson of portfolio committee on arts and culture. Pic:Parliament

Portfolio committee on arts and culture attempts to shield with Public Protector on matter to do with its Constitutional duties

The Act is clear.

Any person who makes a false or deliberately misleading statements to Parliament should face serious consequences.

This is in terms of Section 17(2) of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act (Act 4 of 2004).

The Act states that it is a criminal offence to present false and dishonest statements to Parliament and its committees. The offence is liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years or both the fine and imprisonment.

More than two years after a black training non-profit-organization, the South African Roadies Association, SARA, registered its complaint on alleged false and dishonest statements presented by senior officials of the Department of Arts and Culture, DAC, to Parliament and its portfolio committee, it has become like a hot potato.

Chairperson of the portfolio committee on arts and culture Xoliswa Tom, last week seemed to have inflamed the situation when she told Abaphenyi that the committee could not continue to process SARA’s complaint, since it was concurrently being dealt with by the Public Protector.

Tom said: “The committee was in the process of dealing with the complaint when SARA decided to take the matter to the Public Protector. By law the Office of the Public Protector is accountable to Parliament.”

She adds: “This means that if the committee were to continue with the complaint at the same time when the Public Protector was busy with its report, it would have resulted in Parliament having two reports on one matter. Considering the current financial challenges facing Parliament and the Office of the Public Protector, it is only logical that concurrent investigations are avoided.”

Tom’s remarks have only infuriated SARA.

It is SARA’s contention that the Public Protector matter which    Tom is referring to, is a separate one and has nothing to do with the complaint filed to Parliament.

SARA says that the Public Protector’s report “and remedial action” dealt with the DAC’s breach of the settlement agreement signed on 1 April, 2014, between SARA, DAC and the Public Protector.

The report further received widespread publicity on both radio and television. It was part of the first Press conference by the newly appointed advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane as Public Protector which was held on June 19, 2017.

SARA president Freddie Nyathela explains their complaint to Parliament:

“Here we dealing with a Section 17 (2) of Act 4 of 2004 complaint lodged with Parliament. It should be clear to everyone that this complaint has nothing to do with the Public Protector. Parliament should do the right thing and simply comply with its Constitutional obligations and carry out its duties without fear or favour,” he says.

The complaint filed with Parliament by SARA on February 26, 2016, relate to submissions by senior DAC officials to both the portfolio committee and office of the Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbethe during 2015.  SARA is steadfast that the DAC officials deliberately presented “false and dishonest” statements on record to Parliament.

For the benefit of the reader, SARA is a unique black training non-profit-organization accredited to teach the live event technical production qualification- NQF level 4. SARA has been in existence for more two decades providing young black people with technical and production skills in sound, lighting, audio visual, staging, rigging and production.

SARA prides itself as the only black-owned and managed association in the whole world which offers such training. Recently SARA was also presented with a confirmation of pledge by the South African Qualifications Authority, SAQA, for its commitment to the delivery of quality education and the objectives of the National Qualifications Framework in South Africa.

In their attempt to have its complaint addressed, SARA say they were shocked at the manner in which they were shunted from pillar to post by Parliament “of the people”. As if to add insult to injury, it took 15 months before the portfolio committee could formally acknowledge and respond to its “legitimate” complaint.

SARA has also sent two letters to Speaker Mbete dated August 17, and on November 3, 2016,  pleading for her intervention. Sadly, their pleas fell on deaf ears.

HOLOMISA TO THE RESCUE

General Bantu Holomisa leader of the UDM       Pic: udm.org

SARA’s lifeline, however, came from General Bantu Holomisa, the leader of the United Democratic Movement (UDM).

It was Holomisa’s correspondence to Tom dated May 9, 2017, that seem to spur the portfolio committee to some kind of action.

In Holomisa’s letter, while registering his dismay at the way the SARA complaint was being handled, was quick to remind Tom “of the need for the National Assembly to be responsive to matters that affect our people, in particular the vulnerable young people who benefit from SARA programmes”.

SARA say they were pleasantly surprised on the same day to subsequently receive an official letter from Tom requesting for more supporting documents for its complaint.

In her response to questions from Abaphenyi, Tom concedes that it was for the first time the committee had to deal with a complaint relating to Section 17(2) of Act 4 of 2004. She said the complaint was escalated to Parliament’s legal advisor for clarity “as to how to process the complaint to ensure it can survive legal scrutiny”.

In line with Tom’s response, the portfolio committee’s secretary Ajabulile Mtiya on September 29, 2017, sent an email to SARA which reads: “Kindly be advised that Mr Mjenxane, Parliament’s legal advisor, will make contact with you soon to discuss the complaint by the SARA. I have copied him in this correspondence”.

An exchange of correspondence between SARA and Mjenxane followed thereafter, the last of which was on December 4, 2017.

Copies of the correspondence were also sent to Speaker Mbete and Chair of Chairs of Committees Cedrick Frolick, as well as ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu.

The correspondence reveal that it was up to Tom and the portfolio committee to facilitate travel arrangements for SARA and Mjenxane to meet either in Cape Town or Johannesburg. This was due to a request by Mjenxane for the need to meet with SARA before he could proceed to address the complaint.

It is baffling that despite Tom’s assertion that they take every complaint seriously, the proposed meeting between Mjenxane and SARA – is yet to take place – eight months later.

On whether the Office of the Public Protector has any role to play in the Section 17(2) of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act (Act 4 of 2004) complaint filed by SARA (as indicated by Tom in her response to questions from Abaphenyi) a media inquiry was sent to the Public Protector for her clarity.

Abaphenyi contacted Oupa Segwale, the spokesperson of the Office of the Public Protector (two weeks ago), and Ephraim Kabinde, the personal assistant to advocate Mkhwebane.

Both had promised our inquiry was receiving attention and a response was imminent, but we still awaiting their comment.

Curiously, Tom’s portfolio committee last Tuesday registered its dissatisfaction in the manner in which the DAC responds to queries from the public.

Previous minutes of the committee also reveal Tom’s frustration with the DAC’s seeming “obstructive” and “disrespectful” manner towards the committee “when it was trying to carry out its mandated function of oversight”.

Going forwards it’s going to be interesting to see how this drama will play out, considering that this may well be the first time Parliament will have to deal with a complaint in terms of Section 17(2) of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act (Act 4 of 2004).

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